Seanad Éireann - Volume 164 - 25 October, 2000

Rights of Tibetan People: Motion.

Mr. Norris: I move:

That Seanad Éireann, in the light of Ireland's historic support for the people of Tibet at the UN and other international fora, pledges its whole hearted backing for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and our representatives at the UN and on the Security Council in taking every possible measure to secure the human, civil, political and religious rights of the people of Tibet.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is a pleasure to see him here for what is an important debate. It gives us the opportunity to place on record our congratulations to him and his officials for securing a position on the United Nations Security Council. It is a very significant development and one we welcome. It is a credit to him and those around him. It also places this motion in a particular context. It is significant that there is no amendment to it. This is something on which all parties agree and we support the people of Tibet in seeking their human, civil and political rights.

We, as a people, have an honourable tradition in this matter. It is significant that, in The Irish Times of 14 October, Deputy David Andrews, the Minister's predecessor in the Department of Foreign Affairs, referred twice to Tibet when examining the possible reforming and progressive role Ireland could take at this unique and historic moment in the United Nations. He said:

It is imperative that we use this opportunity to advance the cause of smaller nations. As de Valera spoke out for Abyssinia and as Aiken spoke out for an independent Tibet, we should be willing to adopt an active and independent voice for the rights of small nations.

A few paragraphs later he said:

As we supported the cause of an independent Tibet in the face of strenuous Russian opposition and spoke out on the conduct of the Algerian War, much to the ire of the French, we should be vocal in our support of the smaller, poorer nations.

As the Minister knows, the position in Tibet is not yet resolved – in fact, it is quite tragic. We in this House can get carried away and produce the waffle before the meat. Therefore, at the beginning, I headline two specific suggestions we might consider. We should examine the possibility of urging the European Union to open a consular office in Lhasa or, at the very least, to appoint a rapporteur there. This would be a small degree of recognition of the existence of Tibet which we have historically supported.

Second, the Taoiseach on several occasions but principally in the past 18 months, in meetings [321] with senior Chinese officials, drew their attention to the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland as a potential model for the peaceful resolution of the position in Tibet. The fact that the Taoiseach drew attention to this and suggested it as a model indicates that, with our new position on the Security Council, it should be possible for Ireland to consider offering to act as honest broker and host a meeting between the contending parties who are clearly the Chinese occupying power on the one hand and, on the other, the Tibetan Government in exile in Dharamsala, headed by the Dalai Lama.

In that context I wish to put on record two brief items which were put on record in 1965 at the time of this important debate. Mr. Lopez from the Philippines told the UN General Assembly:

Is it any wonder that the people of many emerging countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America have come to look with deep suspicion on whatever has been euphemistically described as “movements of national liberation”? The phrase, sacred in the memory of freedom fighters everywhere, has been abused for selfish ideological reasons. The record of the Chinese Communist occupation of Tibet conforms to the worst type of imperialism and colonialism, past or present.

Mr. Aiken said in the same debate in the 20th session on 14 December 1965:

In the view of my delegation, the terms of the Declaration [on The Granting Of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples] as we stated when it was being adopted are as much applicable to Tibet as to any other Territory, whether in Asia, Africa, Europe or elsewhere.

The sub-committee on human rights of the Committee on Foreign Affairs passed two motions unanimously and they are to be found on the Order Paper today. The first is No. 18, motion 15:

That Seanad Éireann notes:

Whereas governmental and non-government organisations have reported an increase in political repression and restrictions on religious freedoms in Chinese occupied Tibet in 1999;

Recognising that bilateral dialogues on human rights with the Government of the People's Republic of China have failed to produce meaningful improvements in the human rights of the Chinese and Tibetan peoples;

Commending the Government of the United States for introducing a resolution on China at the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights;

Calls on the Euroopean Union to co-sponsor a resolution on China at the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights;

Expresses strong support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Five Point Peace Plan con[322] taining the following components: (1) transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace; (2) abandonment of China's population transfer policy; (3) respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms; (4) restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment; and (5) commencement of earnest negotiations between the Chinese leadership and the Dalai Lama or his representatives on the future status of Tibet.

This is a very widely and generally held feeling. Coincidentally, I received in my post today an ordinary postcard from west Cork urging me to take up these specific issues. This is something on which the people feel strongly. It is not as widely known as the position in East Timor, but it is parallel to that extraordinary position in which Ireland honourably played a significant and important role.

There is a severe religious clampdown in Tibet although that may not appear to be the case. The Chinese are good at concealing this but I have been there and am a witness to what goes on. One can see Tibetan peasants turning the prayer wheels and one can also see the places where the military type indoctrination of Buddhist monks take place. I have received notes from Tibetan monks, who have given them at the risk of their lives, saying that Tibet is free, that the Dalai Lama is their leader and that we should tell the world. These are the messages which come from this cosmetically organised situation. At present, there are house to house searches by the People's Armed Police and the Public Security Bureau for any evidence of household shrines, altars, incense burners, tankards or pictures of the Dalai Lama. An anonymous telephone line has been set up – a helpline as they call it – which is a hotline where informers are encouraged to tell the authorities about anyone they suspect of practising Buddhism in private. This is religious repression on a scale which must strike a note with the people of Ireland, given our experience of penal laws.

There is also resource exploitation. There is the question of how the Chinese have systematically raped the mineral and water resources of the Tibetan people. We have played a small role in this. I am sure the Minister knows of the controversial Dulan project which involved the resettlement of 58,000 Tibetan people – an enormous population transfer – and the construction of a dam. When the World Bank vice-president was in Ireland, a small number of members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs met him. Afterwards, I wrote to the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, asking him to have Ireland's member on the board vote against this project. I received a letter from the Minister on 5 September indicating that our representative had voted against it and that the project had been rejected by the World Bank. We can play a role in this matter and it is very important we do so.

[323] At present there are projects to increase oil and gas exploration on the Tibetan plateau. The Tibetan Government in exile has issued a clear, precise statement against this. The representatives of the people of Tibet say the plans for major exploitation of oil and gas reserves in Tibet by PetroChina, in partnership with Western companies such as BP, ENI and AGIP, will cause harm for the Tibetan people. They call for an immediate halt to the construction of the Sebei-Lanzhou pipeline and the increase in exploration for gas and oil on the Tibetan plateau.

Their position with regard to the development in investment in Tibet is clear. The Government in exile supports projects which benefit the Tibetan people and opposes those which cause harm. It does not want projects that facilitate the transfer of Chinese into Tibetan areas and so on. It believes the project will be harmful because it will employ a sizeable disproportion of Chinese and other non-Tibetans, deplete natural resources with little or no benefit to the Tibetan people, consolidate the Chinese control and occupation of Tibet and increase the Chinese Government's reason for maintaining control. It will facilitate the erosion of Tibetan culture and traditions, facilitate the transfer of Chinese settlers or workers to Tibetan areas, negatively affect the sustainability of Tibet's ecosystems and employ only a few Tibetans in skilled positions.

It is very important to recognise the real situation in Tibet. I went there five years ago. The brief I was given by UNPO was to develop criteria and then to test the position there to see if it was a colonial situation. I can give the Minister a copy of the report we produced, which is very clear, rational and lucid. On every point, we ascertained that the situation in Tibet was a colonial one and a form of imperialism.

In the past we had a habit of being practical, of looking at the realpolitik. I remember urging the Government from this side of the House not to get involved in the Iraq beef deals. I was told that while what I was suggesting might be moral, it was not in Ireland's economic interest and we could not afford it. That backfired terribly on the people of Ireland, who were left with a huge bill.

Sometimes, one can do the moral thing and also reap a long-term benefit. I recommend the Minister to look at the works of distinguished economic analysts, such as Gerald Segal and Jonathan Mirsky, who have shown that China, far from being the economic giant that people imagine, is much more comparable to a country like Brazil. There are 250 million migrant agricultural workers travelling around that country. According to Jonathan Mirsky, the highest yield that international investor countries have received from China is about 3%. It does not represent either the economic threat or the golden egg we imagine.

We can confront the Chinese position honourably. We need not antagonise them. We can do it calmly, clearly and coolly. The Minister will be [324] able to do that far better than I could because my passions are engaged in this issue. We can do it without losing the respect of the Chinese – instead, we will gain it. If we use this opportunity we will enhance our standing in the eyes of the world.

Mr. O'Toole: I am privileged to second the motion and thank the Senator for inviting me to do so. Senator Norris has made the general points. It is good he has put on the record the contribution Irish Governments made from 1959 to 1961 and in 1965, in particular, at the UN.

This issue has exercised me since I was elected to the Seanad. A debate took place on this subject in 1989. The resolution, which was passed, was proposed by the former Senator Mary Robinson. We noted that 1.2 million Tibetans had been killed since the Chinese invasion. We were concerned that an estimated 2,500 monks, nuns and lay Tibetans were in prison without trial. We condemned the Chinese regime and urged the Irish Government to use and support all international measures.

The situation has continued in the intervening 11 years and nothing much has happened since. What I said during that debate ties in very clearly with the points made by Senator Norris in his conclusion tonight. I said then:

Nowadays, everybody needs China and everybody wants to be friends with China. If we are not friends with China, it can be a costly thing in terms of commercial and trade terms throughout the world.

That is even more relevant today. I am very conscious we have had the highest level of communication with China over the past number of months, in terms of contact by the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach. It is hugely importantly that we deal with this as diplomatically as possible.

I congratulate the Minister, his Department and the Government on achieving a place on the Security Council. I hope and believe we will serve with distinction there. This is one of the issues we should ask to be looked at.

The measured tones of what Senator Norris said are very important. We do not need to put ourselves out of court in dealing with this. We can deal with this diplomatically and outline what is wrong. We can say to China that this is unacceptable, in terms of the global market, community, peace keeping and human rights.

Senator Norris touched on some of these issues. It has been raised continuously with us over the past ten or 12 years that the country has effectively been raped by the Chinese Government. Any wealth, particularly gems, has been mined out of the ground by the Chinese and exported, at a time when there is no investment in health, education and various other rights which people should have there.

The levels of deprivation of human rights in Tibet are hardly paralleled anywhere in the world. The Panchen Lama, who is 11 years of age, [325] has been imprisoned by the Chinese since he was seven years of age, without allowing any international access to him. No matter where we stand, that is in breach of every convention, from the convention on human rights to that on the rights of the child. It is ironic, and somewhat pathetic, to note that the Chinese invasion of Tibet took place on the same year as the UN declaration on human rights. Very few human rights have been available to the people of Tibet during that time.

According to Amnesty International, there are nuns who have been imprisoned since the age of 13 years in Chinese prisons, which is totally unacceptable. In recent times, more than 11,000 monks and nuns have been expelled for opposing what is called patriotic re-education. If ever we needed to see the penal laws referred to by Senator Norris revisited, this is a precise example. This comes under what has been referred to by Amnesty International as the “strike hard” campaign of the Chinese forces.

A huge number of the political prisoners are women. At a time when the world is so conscious of rights, it should be clearly understood that a quarter of the known political prisoners in Tibet are women. The ways they are being kept, and the lack of access to them, should also be known.

I ask the Minister to raise at the highest possible level the issue of the invitation of foreign human rights delegations to Tibet. The Chinese Government has played a very clever diplomatic game by inviting, with great brouhaha, foreign delegations to visit Tibet. That looks good and gets a lot of coverage. However, unfortunately, when they get there they are denied independent access to Tibetans. The Chinese refuse to allow independent human rights organisations to investigate the human rights situation in Tibet.

This mirrors what went on in East Timor and every other repressive regime. There is a fear of letting in international observers. We have learned over the years that before we can solve a problem we must let in the light and let people understand it. The Chinese Government has won the propaganda war in regard to Tibet because it does not allow information out of it and, therefore, the world is not as aware of it. One of the reasons for tonight's debate is to raise that awareness.

I will conclude by mentioning what is the most appalling adverse approach to human rights and the right of people to express themselves and to have families – the child quotas operated by the Chinese Government against the Tibetan people. Tibetan people are only allowed to have one or two children, depending on where they live. They are forced to subscribe to a system of extraordinary strength in family planning policy. People are penalised for having more children than the number authorised. It is an appalling regime and I ask the Minister to deal with it on an emotive level, a human rights level and on a diplomatic level.

[326] We have to convince the Chinese authorities that they have a huge market and that they can play a role on the world stage and be successful at it. Trade can be successful but we cannot continue to do business and interact with a regime which is so utterly repressive of political rights and, in particular, of the fundamental rights of children, women and families. This is a country where a population's culture, language and religion are effectively being wiped from the slate.

The Minister is supportive of the motion. I ask him to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious precedessors in the UN by making a mark on this issue and ensuring that Ireland's voice is heard and leads the world in this regard.

Mr. Lanigan: I welcome the motion. It is a motion about human rights more than anything else and human rights is an issue we all must explore. Undoubtedly, the issue of human rights has come to the fore throughout the world but that has happened only in the last few years.

Europe leads the fight for the extension of human rights values throughout the world, although it is not long since Europe was not a haven for people who wished to be involved in human rights issues. The history of Europe is not the history of a continent in which humanity was of the highest order. In Europe there have been the biggest and worst atrocities ever perpetrated. Regardless of whether atrocities are perpetrated on a religious or political basis, it was in Europe where the biggest and worst occurred. It is only in the last few years that Europe has got itself together, as it were, and been a leader in promoting the expression of human rights throughout the world.

The Tibetans have endured an enormous problem over the last 50 years. It is suggested in the motion that this has only happened since 1950 but the Tibetans were under a feudal system before the 1950s. That feudal situation existed throughout the centuries and was horrific. The peasants and the ordinary people of Tibet were poor because of the overlords who were supposedly religious leaders. The invasion of Tibet by the Chinese did not improve the lot of the Tibetan people but it did not do them much more harm than was done to them in previous centuries.

Tibet will never be free unless it is an autonomous country. It has never been an autonomous country. It was previously ruled by warlords who wore a religious uniform and, for the last 50 years, it has been ruled by the Chinese. The Chinese claim that Tibet is part of their area of responsibility. I am not sure whether the Tibetan people are better or worse off than they were before the Chinese invaded.

Mr. Norris: Perhaps the Senator asked them during his recent visit. I did and they were unambiguous in their answers.

[327] An Cathaoirleach: Senator Lanigan's time is limited. He must be allowed to make his contribution without interruption.

Mr. Lanigan: Senator Norris visited Tibet as a member of the foreign affairs committee. He got every opportunity to see what he needed to see. He was not inhibited in any way.

Tibet's history was tumultuous. It is an area of the world about which we knew little until recently. We must ensure that whether it is an autonomous region of China or a separate country, the people of Tibet have every right to express themselves in political or religious terms. We must ensure that if the Chinese continue their control of Tibet, they accord to the Tibetans every human right which people in Ireland expect. I am not sure if that is possible. How can it be done without putting monitors all over one of the most remote countries in the world to watch what is happening?

Resource exploitation is another issue of concern. How can we monitor whether the resources of Tibet are being exploited? I do not think there is any way of doing it. We often talk about warlords and the corruption of the leadership of countries in Africa. The corruption does not come from within Africa but from without. If people did not buy the oil or diamonds and did not exploit the resources of that continent, there would be no warlords or corruption. Corruption starts mainly from the outside.

I urge the Minister to ensure that Ireland, through the United Nations and other international bodies, will try to get the Chinese, the overlords or controllers of Tibet, to give the Tibetans freedom of speech, freedom of accommodation and freedom from exploitation of their rights. They should have the freedoms enjoyed by the people of Ireland. I do not think that will be possible.

Wherever human rights violations occur, whether it is in Ireland, Tibet or anywhere else in the world, Ireland must ensure, and it will have the opportunity to do so as a member of the Security Council in the next couple of years, that it is to the forefront in fighting for an improvement of the conditions of the people concerned. We must use our time on the Security Council to make certain exploitation, whether it is of tribes, parties, ethnic groups or the people in “autonomous” regions of major powers, and human rights violations do not continue.

Mr. Coogan: I welcome the Minister and congratulate him and the Government on attaining a seat on the Security Council. I also wish to reflect on some of the points which have already been raised, one being the strong position the Minister has inherited. Previous Ministers for Foreign Affairs, including Frank Aiken and Brian Lenihan, have represented a viewpoint on human rights, which reflected that of the Irish people, throughout the world. I can safely say our view on the nature of human rights and our concerns [328] in that regard have developed because of our domination by another country. We feel we have something to say and that it is our right to say it.

Tonight's motion expresses the fact that people have something to say about what is happening in Tibet. The day we stop speaking about it will be the day the Tibetan people will be completely and entirely subjugated. We must continue to speak about the suffering of these people.

I do not consider myself an expert on Tibet or its history and I bow to the knowledge of Senator Norris. He has had the opportunity of visiting Tibet and of talking to the people and I feel somewhat of a fraud discussing the issue without a deeper knowledge. However, my knowledge comes from the reading I have done and the parallels I have found between the history of Tibet since 1949 and the history of Ireland in terms of imperialism and colonisation. We cannot pussyfoot in terms of China simply because we need to trade with it. We must state things as they are – I would not make a very good diplomat – and deal with the situation factually.

The parallels with the people of Ireland are the subjugation not just of the nation but of its language and religion and the attempted annihilation of its culture. If we were still dominated by another country and the Government of that country decided Knock was to be demolished to make room for a hydro-electric station we would feel very upset. Yet a similar thing happened in Yamdrok Tsho. The late Panchen Lama stopped the hydro-electric station being located there as it is a place sacred for the people of Tibet. On his death, however, the authorities went ahead and built the station, affecting not only religion but the economy of the area, depleting some rivers, etc.

The other parallels were mentioned by Senator Norris, including the transplanting of Tibetans, reminding me of the phrase “To hell or to Connaught”, and the bringing in of unskilled Chinese people for road building who are prisoners for political or other reasons. Tibetans charged with political or other crimes are being corralled and used for slave labour. These are things which have a parallel with the history of Ireland and which we find so naturally abhorrent. We have treated the Chinese Government lightly and very diplomatically and gently. I understand the Minister's role demands such an approach. Nevertheless I feel it is critical for us to condemn the Chinese in terms of the issues outlined.

Reference was made by Senator O'Toole to the limitation on the family size for Tibetan people, a continuation of the policy which the Chinese imposed on themselves. However, certain Chinese people, if they live in areas of Tibet, are allowed to have more than one child. Sometimes they are allowed have two children depending on their education or their commitment to the area. I suppose the idea behind this is that in time they will outnumber Tibetans and that the Tibetan people will disappear completely.

[329] We can ask why China feels it has a right to colonise. China denies that what is happening is colonisation – they say there was never a break from the 13th century, that it was and is their country. However, most people with any learning would say that from 1913 to 1949 the Tibetan people had independence, that they established relationships and trade with other countries and as such were an independent state and have every right still to be such. Tibetan language, history and tradition are different from that of China.

Why was China so adamant on taking Tibet? Resources, including mineral resources, were already mentioned as a factor. The other issue is that Tibet forms a buffer zone, in the same way as we were perhaps seen in Elizabethan times as a buffer zone between the rest of Europe. In the case of Tibet, the buffer zone offers China the possibility of distributing nuclear weaponry within it. The zone has been used and abused, an example of which are the agricultural reforms up to 1980 under which an effort was made to make Tibetans grow wheat when barley was their natural crop, creating starvation and wiping out people.

There are many things which could be talked about, but I only know about the tip of the iceberg. Others know much more and I am sure the Minister has much background information supplied to the Department. The more the Minister reads this information, I am sure, the more he feels the people of Tibet must have support and that there must be voices raised continuously on their behalf. I commend to the Minister the five points raised in the motion.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): The motion we are debating provides an opportunity which I welcome to set out the policy and approach of the Government in regard to the people of Tibet. The very fact this debate is taking place reflects the extent of public disquiet in Ireland about the situation of the people in Tibet. From the many representations I have received and the questions asked in the Dáil, I am well aware of the depth of those concerns. In this context, Irish and international NGOs, including the Tibet Support Group and Amnesty International, have been active in drawing attention to reports of abuses of human rights. Among these abuses there are reports of torture, arbitrary arrests, detention without public trial and lengthy detention of Tibetan nationalists for peacefully expressing their political and religious views.

Tibet's history has at times been tumultuous. Tibet has not been helped by outside intervention. Indeed, the threat of European expansion, including earlier British and Russian rivalry, and the establishment of their spheres of influence affected in a major way Tibet's economic and political development in the latter half of the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries. The net effect was for Tibet to turn itself into a closed country, isolated from outside developments and progress. The history of Tibet since the 1950s is [330] well known and it is unnecessary for me to repeat it.

Tibet is one of several autonomous regions within the People's Republic of China and is recognised by the Irish Government as such. As the House is aware, Ireland, since the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979 has accepted the “one China” policy of the Government in Beijing. This is the context in which our broad approach must be seen and addressed.

What can we do to improve the human rights situation in Tibet? Our objective is to highlight the abuse of human rights wherever it occurs and to take appropriate action at multilateral fora, such as at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, to secure human rights improvements. In addition, the question of human rights in China and Tibet is raised on every appropriate occasion in the course of our bilateral contacts with the Chinese authorities.

During her visit to China in September, the Tánaiste took the opportunity to discuss human rights in China and Tibet with Premier Zhu Rongji. Last week in Seoul at the ASEM summit the Taoiseach pointed out to Premier Zhu and other Asian leaders our belief in the universality of human rights and explained how they are firmly established as a cornerstone of our foreign policy. He also made clear our intention to uphold the value and rights of the individual, in particular in the areas of freedom of expression, association and religion, irrespective of the level of economic development. They speak about Asian values and the priority they give to the achievement of a certain level of socio-economic development before other rights can be accommodated. We do not agree with their approach.

China signed in recent years two key UN human rights instruments, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This was a most welcome development and has been acknowledged as such both by Ireland in our bilateral contacts, and in EU-Chinese discussions. The next priority is the ratification by China of both of these covenants. Such early ratification and implementation by China of both covenants would be viewed not only as a sign but also as a concrete proof of their commitment to safeguard and guarantee the freedoms which are set out in them. We have offered to assist China in whatever way we can by sharing our experience of drafting legislation for compliance with UN international covenants and other conventions. A similar offer has been made to China by the European Union and we collectively have encouraged China to enter into enhanced co-operation with the specialised UN bodies.

The motion before the House speaks of support at the international level for “every possible measure to secure the human, civil, political and religious rights of the people of Tibet”. Each of these rights is of course fundamental. I would [331] point out, however, that they are covered by only one of the two basic UN covenants, namely the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is of equal importance and is also of particular relevance in the case of Tibet. The Government, in its approach to Tibet, is concerned with economic, social and cultural rights and we will, therefore, be pressing for early implementation of both covenants by the Chinese authorities.

In the framework of action undertaken by the United Nations, Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited China on several occasions. She engaged in a dialogue with the authorities there on a number of human rights concerns. Her office is also ready to assist China in moving to ratify the covenants. I understand that the question of the establishment of a technical co-operation programme between the Chinese authorities and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is under active negotiation and I look forward to the early signature by them of the agreement which would allow this programme to commence.

While it must be acknowledged that there have been some improvements of the legal system and of social and economic rights in China, including longevity, health and literacy, I regret that little progress has been achieved on the ground, in particular regarding civil and political rights. We firmly condemn the continuing restrictions upon fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, expression, religion, assembly and association.

The European Union has a dialogue with China on human rights of which the most recent round took place on 29 September last. This dialogue is not seen by us or by any EU partner as an end in itself but as a means to an end. Through the human rights dialogue, the European Union regularly discusses with China issues of serious human rights concern, including individual cases, the death penalty, conditions of detention and, of course, Tibet. Concern at the lack of progress in the dialogue has, however, led to the European Union agreeing to engage in a process of review of the dialogue, with a view to a more focused and result-oriented approach with tangible improvements on the ground. That review is ongoing. As recently as Monday of this week, when the EU-China summit took place in Beijing, this dialogue on human rights was also discussed at length. The European Union was represented at this summit by the Presidency, the Commission and the Secretary General-High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. There again the European Union objective was reiterated. The importance of early Chinese ratification of the two UN covenants was also stressed.

In response, Premier Zhu informed the European Union of his hope that China will ratify the UN Convention on Social, Economic and Cul[332] tural Rights before the end of the year. In view of the importance which we attach to the cultural and linguistic identity of minorities, this would be of particular relevance to the people of Tibet, and I therefore hope that this timetable will be adhered to.

While we will continue with our EU partners to improve the EU-China dialogue along the lines I have just indicated, I stress that the existence of this dialogue does not preclude the European Union from expressing publicly its concerns about human rights in China. It is in this context that in both 1999 and again this year the EU Presidency expressed serious concern at the human rights situation in China in its opening statements to the annual sessions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

At the 56th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last March, Ireland was fully associated with the European Union country statement in which deep concern was expressed, inter alia, about the fact that in China, despite some steps in the improvement of the legal system and social and economic rights, little progress has been achieved on the ground, in particular regarding civil and political rights. Continuing restrictions upon fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, expression, religion, assembly and association, were firmly condemned. The European Union expressed its concern in particular at the harsh sentences imposed on political dissidents calling for democracy in China, as well as at the alarming human rights situation in Tibet. The maintaining of administrative detention and the use of the death penalty were also highlighted as matters of particularly serious concern to the Union.

The human rights situation in China will be raised by Ireland and its EU partners in the context of discussions at the current session of the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, which deals with social and human rights issues.

I welcome the co-operation which China extends to a number of UN treaty monitoring bodies. For instance, in May of this year, as a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, China's third periodic report was considered by the UN Committee Against Torture. I welcome the statement made by the Chinese delegation that it was a consistent position and principle of the Chinese Government to oppose and prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The conclusions and recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture on the report appreciated and encouraged the continuing efforts of the Chinese Government to introduce amendments in its legislation and practices to bring them into line with international norms of human rights. In the concluding observations, however, concern was expressed about the continuing allegations of serious incidents of torture, especially involving Tibetans and other national minorities.

[333] I have outlined what we are doing in the UN General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies. Our commitment to human rights will be carried through in our work on the UN Security Council. As I made clear in the Dáil last week, our record at the United Nations over the past 45 years will guide our actions on the Council. Through our forthcoming membership we will have a unique opportunity to bring these principles into the heart of UN decision-making. We will be seeking to play a positive role in conflict prevention and resolution wherever the need arises. We will be responsive to those who elected us and to the wider membership. We envisage engaging fully and effectively across the whole Security Council agenda.

It is not possible to speak about religious freedom in Tibet without speaking of the Dalai Lama. We on this island know very well the bitterness and distrust that can be associated with religious divisions. The recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Northern Ireland struck a chord in that he was warmly welcomed by both sides of the sectarian divide. It seemed that, coming from an entirely different religious tradition, he bore a message of reconciliation to a divided community.

This is not the occasion to discuss the ongoing process of dialogue in Northern Ireland. However, everybody in this House will be only too familiar with the difficulties and challenges which dialogue can pose and the demands which it can make on patience and perseverance. As we have also seen, apparently insoluble and intractable problems can eventually yield to such efforts and they can be resolved by determination, imagination and courage. There is a further important feature of dialogue which I should emphasise, that is that it should not be described as “pointless” until at least it has been tried. I hope very much, therefore, that they will come when we might see dialogue in place between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities, on a mutually agreed basis and in a way that would address the fundamental issues of concern to both. The objective which should be shared by all is the welfare of the people of Tibet and the safeguarding of all their rights.

I assure the House of the priority attention the Government will give to this issue and my intention to ensure that full information is made available to the House with regard to the progress that I sincerely hope will be achieved.

Mr. Ross: I came into the House with the hope that we would get a reply from the Minister which would be courageous, bold, full of action and promises of action on Tibet. Because the scripts are written in Iveagh House I know it is difficult to depart from those scripts and, given the diplomatic atmosphere into which politicians sometimes get seduced, to depart from that atmosphere. However, I was disappointed with the Minister's reply because if human rights in Tibet are being infringed and there is a problem, action [334] is required, not words. What is required is the Minister to say “I am going to do the following”.

The Minister's contribution was an aspirational speech about dialogue and concern. If I was the Chinese Ambassador and I had read a copy of the Minister's speech I would be happy because I would say “These guys are not going to do anything about Tibet but they are going to make all the right noises”. There is a danger that the Minister's contribution will send signals to China, America and the great powers that Ireland will use its position on the Security Council to champion human rights cosmetically, to make the right sounds and achieve nothing at the end of the term.

I refer to one or two phrases in the Minister's contribution. He continuously said the Tánaiste, for instance, took the opportunity to discuss human rights in China and the Taoiseach pointed out various issues. What is going on? It is no damn good these people discussing human rights. If the Tánaiste is concerned about human rights in Tibet or if the Taoiseach wants to point out the difficulties there, he or she should condemn them openly and proudly and assert Ireland's independence on this issue.

It is no good pussyfooting around with countries such as China and allowing them to bully other countries. The Chinese for years have practised economic and territorial imperialism. If we continue to allow them to do so and if we make sweet sounds such as this and pretend that engaging them in dialogue will solve the problem we will play into their hands. They will unfortunately be happy to hear what the Minister had to say.

He stated: “We condemn the continuing restrictions upon fundamental freedoms, including freedom of thought, expression, religion, assembly and association”. We know that but what will be done about it? I am long enough in this House and many Ministers for Foreign Affairs have come in to say Ireland is acting within the European Union and Ireland and its colleagues are great champions of human rights. Whenever I hear a Minister saying he and his European partners are doing something I know they are doing absolutely nothing. It means they have all got together and diluted the thrust of everything. They are doing nothing whatsoever and are hiding behind each other.

One can be assured that while the Minister is delivering his speech to the Seanad and the Dáil about Tibet and saying he and his European partners are doing something about Tibet, there are guys in Brussels, Sweden and France delivering the same speech and they are doing absolutely nothing. The words “European Union” in the context of championing human rights or doing something in the foreign affairs arena are a guarantee of inaction and that is what the Minister said in his contribution.

I find China, as a nation, offensive because it oppressed people in Tiananmen Square and because of its barbaric use of the death penalty. However, it is time that was said in the House. [335] I also find the United States offensive for those reasons because any country which systematically practises the death penalty should be condemned in this House. It is even more incumbent on us in Ireland given our history to take a stand alone on the Tibetan issue.

The Minister's contribution was milk and watery. It does not bode well for our tenure on the Security Council. It signals that we will make all the right noises but at the end of the day the great powers such as the Chinese and American ambassadors will be happy with us because we will say lots and do absolutely nothing. The only thing the Chinese will understand is Ireland standing up to them, condemning them and initiating moves within the EU and the United Nations. I would like the Minister to make a pledge that he will initiate moves in the United Nations for stronger condemnation and to use his position on the Security Council to assert our independence and commitment to freedom.

The Chinese care about world opinion because they care about trade and money, as do the Americans. That is the key to foreign affairs and diplomatic relations. Most wars are fought over trade and increasing the wealth of the invader and this is no different. We should launch a crusade which threatens trade with China. When we visit China and say we want to promote trade and then make mealy mouthed sounds about Tibet, the Chinese read the signals perfectly well. We mean we want trade but we must pay lip service to human rights in Tibet.

This is a serious problem for the world and I congratulate Senator Norris for championing this problem as he did East Timor. It is a matter of conscience whether we take up the rights of small autonomous nations or pretend to do so. When Tibet was invaded many years ago it was a serious problem. It has been a problem which to our shame we have not been able to do anything about since but now that we are in a position to use our influence, it appears that perhaps we are defaulting and funking the function we have been given.

This is a case of economic and territorial imperialism by the Chinese against the wishes of the people of Tibet. At the very least the Minister when he attends the Security Council should demand a plebiscite from the Chinese to ascertain public opinion there. I ask the Minister when he comes before the House again not to accept the mealy mouthed foreign affairs scripts he is handed and not to be seduced by the comfort of diplomatic language and by the fact that there is always a crying need for Ministers when they take up that office to somehow become engulfed in the culture of saying little and doing less. I support the motion.

Mr. Lydon: For a moment, I thought Senator Ross would declare war on China. I am not sure we could manage that. However, this is an important motion, which I am glad to support because a few comments should be put on the [336] record. We must realise the Tibetans are a distinct race. They are distinct from all their neighbours and the Chinese. They do not regard themselves as Chinese and the Chinese do not regard the Tibetans as Chinese.

On the eve of the Chinese invasion in 1949 Tibet displayed all the attributes of an independent statehood recognised under its national law. It had a population, a defined territory, a government and the ability to enter into international relations. Nepal, Bhutan, Britain, China and India maintained diplomatic relations with Tibet's capital and the Tibetan foreign office also conducted limited relations with the United States when President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent emissaries to Lhasa to request assistance for the Allied war effort against Japan during the Second World War.

During the four UN General Assembly debates on Tibet in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1965, many countries expressly referred to Tibet as an independent country illegally occupied by China. It still is that today.

Tibet's independent foreign policy is perhaps most obviously demonstrated by the country's neutrality during World War II. Despite pressure from Britain, the US and China to allow the passage of military supplies through Tibet to China when Japan blocked the strategically vital Burma road, Tibet held fast.

The Chinese takeover constituted an act of aggression on a sovereign state and a violation of international law. The continued occupation of Tibet by China with the help of several hundred thousand Chinese troops represents an ongoing violation of international law and the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people. China tries to justify its occupation by saying that it “liberated” Tibetan society from a medieval feudal serfdom and slavery. It trots out this myth every time the issue is raised.

As Senator Lanigan said, Tibetan society was by no means perfect. It was in need of changes, but it was not as bad as China would have us believe and it certainly was not a serfdom. As far back as 1960 the International Commission of Jurist' Legal Inquiry Committee reported: “Chinese allegations that the Tibetans enjoyed no human rights before the entry of the Chinese were found to be based on distorted and exaggerated accounts of life in Tibet.” Whatever is the case, there is no justification for the Chinese claim that they “liberated” Tibetan society; it is invalid. International law does not accept justifications of this type. I encourage the Government to speak out as loudly as it can in this regard.

We had no trouble speaking out when Iraq invaded Kuwait or in relation to East Timor. However, as many Senators said, speaking out against China means speaking out against a huge mass of people who are willing to buy goods. China has just been admitted to the World Trade Organisation. As Senator O'Toole said, the marketplace governs what is done. This is a pity [337] because we are witnessing the destruction of a people and a country.

The so-called unity of nationalities is a key element of Chinese policies towards Tibetans. After the occupation of Tibet in 1949-51, this policy meant the introduction of collectivisation under Chinese rule. These social changes brought about the complete disruption of traditional Tibetan ways of life and of their social institutions. We witnessed the systematic destruction of more than 6,000 monasteries. Monks and nuns were killed or forced to give up their vows and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were killed in warfare and by starvation or they were executed because they resisted the policies being forced upon them. The Chinese have encouraged mass immigration by Chinese into Tibet. Tibetan children are now losing their language because Chinese is taught along the borders and is moving more towards the centre of Tibet.

In 1987 the Dalai Lama proposed a five point peace plan and we as a nation should not have much trouble supporting it. He proposed a transformation of the whole of Tibet into a demilitarised zone of peace and non-violence. Second, he proposed the abandonment of the Chinese population transfer policy which threatens the existence of the Tibetan people. Third, he proposed respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms and, fourth, the restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and the dumping of nuclear waste. This is one of the most horrific aspects of the occupation. His fifth proposal was the commencement of earnest negotiations between the Tibetan people and the Chinese people. These negotiations broke down but I understand they are up and running again between Beijing and the Tibetan Government in exile.

The Minister said the motion speaks of support at international level for every possible measure to secure the human, civil and political rights of the people of Tibet. He said that each of these rights is fundamental and he pointed out that they are covered by only one of two basic UN conventions. However, they are fundamental human rights. On 10 March 2000, the Dalai Lama said:

Human rights are of universal interest because it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity and they have a right to achieve them. Whether we like it or not, we have all been born into this world as part of one great human family. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else. We all desire happiness and do not want suffering.

It would not kill us to support that aspiration or the five point plan the Dalai Lama put forward in 1987.

[338] I am not sure what the Government can do, but it will do nothing if it remains silent. Fortunately, it is not remaining silent, but if we are to change things, we must accept that Tibet is not a province of China. It never was and never will be a province. It is a separate independent nation. When the Iraqis took over Kuwait, we immediately condemned them. Sanctions are still in place against Iraq. Although that is another matter, they have been in place for too long.

When other nations were taken over by larger nations, we condemned it. We repeatedly spoke out about East Timor, and we should speak out on this matter. As Senator O'Toole said, the marketplace governs much of what we do and the 1.2 billion people in China might buy Irish products. However, it is a great price to pay for the freedom and individual liberties that the Tibetan people have lost. As an oppressed people, we should know exactly what that means.

I hope the Minister will continue in the same vein and continue to press the matter at all levels. We cannot get the Chinese to leave there immediately, but if we say nothing, they will never do so. If we keep asking, they may do so some day. We have little power but whatever we have should be used on the diplomatic front. We should do what we can and encourage the Government in exile to continue its dialogue with Beijing and vice versa. Perhaps a resolution will come about as a result.

Mr. Ryan: At the risk of being a little jocose, I cannot resist making the point that the only people in the world who apparently do not like the Dalai Lama are the Chinese and the Democratic Unionist Party. It is a most interesting point.

I congratulate the Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs on securing a seat on the Security Council. However, the Department and the Minister should reflect on the scale of that victory by securing 133 from a possible total of 174. They should remember that this is a commentary on our past position and an act of faith that we will continue to maintain that position. We are regarded as people who are more or less honest brokers and who take the best, most honest and correct position on many issues of international conflict. We are not in the pocket or under the influence of any of the major powers, and I hope that position continues.

I do not want to go over issues on which we are all agreed. We all agree about what is wrong. There is appalling military repression in Tibet. Its territory is occupied by a foreign army and it is under the control of a foreign Government. This Government is foreign in every possible definition. It is foreign in terms of language, religion, politics and every other way. We should begin to push away from the idea, to which I have never subscribed, that there is something other than an issue of colonial control involved.

We know about the political repression and deportation and the effective cultural blitzkrieg [339] that has gone on for almost 50 years. We know about what is effectively a campaign of sectarian murder which has killed millions of Tibetans. We know it is essentially a colonial situation that is based on the belief of a large country that its own security interests and need to have access to resources are much more important than the rights of a small people in a small, and what they consider peripheral, country.

We all know that, but strangely enough and contrary to what was said by some speakers in this debate, from the very beginning the issue of Tibet produced some resonance in this country. I was seven years old when the Chinese invaded Tibet and I clearly remember newspaper stories about the flood of refugees from Tibet led by the Dalai Lama. Somehow those events resonated with the Irish people, perhaps because we were focusing on the idea of religious repression by what was then perceived to be international communism. Due to that we have a wonderful, independent record on the Tibetan question as epitomised by Frank Aiken's words which Senator O'Toole quoted.

We would be foolish to believe, however, that the position we used to take represents the position of the international community, which is not nearly as good at taking moral positions on these issues as its rhetoric would suggest. Led by the major powers and many others who aspire to be major powers, the international community is full of the rhetoric of human rights and the need to resist repression. Twice in the last ten years in the name of those values the western world has resorted to armed force – in Kuwait and, more recently, in Kosovo. The reality is that what has been done by China in Tibet, in terms of intensity, cruelty, brutality and duration, far exceeds the brutality of either the invasion of Kuwait or the behaviour of Serbians in Kosovo. The only difference is that China is not Serbia or Iraq. Morally and ethically speaking, in terms of scale, extremity and brutality there is no fundamental difference between the three instances I have cited. The difference in approach by the west is dictated simply by China's size and the west's belief in China's current strategic importance.

In the good old days when the world was divided into good guys and bad guys, we could always condemn every abuse of human rights by one side, while ignoring those committed by the other side. It took me a long time to realise what people meant when they talked about the free world. I noticed that it included all the dictatorships of South America, South Africa under the old apartheid regime and Mexico which had not had a change of Government in 70 years. Then I realised that there was one common theme – the free world is the one which allows the so-called free market to operate. Once China decided to move into a neo-liberal style of economic order, it was effectively co-opted into the free world and it did not matter much what it did after that, in the same way as Indonesia was also regarded as [340] part of the free world following the bloody overthrow of President Sukharno 40 years ago. That is the problem. The free world is the one which is free to deal with economic affairs in the manner approved by the countries that benefit most from that situation.

I have a problem with the tone of the Minister's speech. We appear to pussyfoot around China and that is not just a Government issue. It is a matter of considerable regret to me, and one I have raised frequently, that last year when we had a Chinese parliamentary delegation in the Houses of the Oireachtas, they insisted upon and were allowed the privilege of having their meeting with the Committee on Foreign Affairs in private.

Mr. Norris: Some of us voted against it.

Mr. Ryan: It was quite an unprecedented and appallingly wrong decision. We were made to operate to Chinese standards in our own freely elected Parliament. It was a profoundly wrong decision which allowed the Chinese to dictate the conditions under which they would come here. While I know that Senator Norris probably did wonderful things when he was in China, it would be a brave delegation that would try to dictate to the Chinese how to deal with us in a such a fundamental fashion. We allowed it to be done and I fear that we are allowing it to be done all the time.

I am concerned about the EU focus of the Minister's speech, which implies that appalling countries, like France – led, incidentally, by a member of the international grouping of which I am also a member – are happily preaching human rights out of one side of their mouths, while encouraging French companies, including the oil firm Agip, to become involved in the rape of Tibet's resources.

I am glad the Minister rejected the idea of so-called Asian values. This is an excuse by corrupt and dictatorial regimes all over Asia to pretend that their position is logical. The winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economics, Armytra Sen, is an Indian who vigorously rejects the idea that democracy and development are in any way in conflict. He has made the simple point that there has never been a famine in a democracy. Therefore, the best way to provide the most basic services for one's people is to institute democracy. When we hear the Chinese and all their friends in Asia talking about development in Asian values, we should tell them that is nonsense. Democracy is not a western idea, it is the most basic concept of human rights. Yet, that basic idea has been taken away in Tibet.

It is extraordinary that we have accepted the right of a minority to secede in this island because they did not wish to be part of a single State. While we are vigorously, and with some pain for many people, accepting that right, we apparently do not accept the same right of a minority – who are far more diverse from China in terms of lang[341] uage, culture, religion and race than any of the people on this island – within what is now the People's Republic of China. We have accepted formally that they do not have a similar right.

The issue of Tibet will be resolved ultimately, not by a compromise but by a decision and willingness to allow Tibet to be an independent State. There is a role for the language of diplomacy in the Minister's speech concerning all these matters. However, I am not aware of any such issues – whether in East Timor, South Africa or elsewhere – having been resolved solely by the language of diplomacy. It also needs figures such as Tom Hyland and Kadar Asmal to go beyond the language of diplomacy and describe reality as it is. The reality of Tibet is of a colonised country under the jackboot of an occupying power, using a level of repression and brutality that is only paralleled by such places as Kuwait under the Iraqis and Kosovo under Slobodan Milosevic. Whatever the Chinese may feel, it is better for everybody in the world for us to tell the truth about these things. It is only by telling the truth that the possibility of a resolution will emerge.

Dr. Henry: I congratulate Senator Norris, as other speakers have done, for bringing this issue before the House. Human rights, freedom of religion and democracy are issues of international importance. If they are diminished anywhere, they are diminished everywhere.

I congratulate the Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Minister and especially the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, on the tremendous support she and the Department have given to the Burmese Government in exile. Burma Action Ireland brought the issue of the human rights atrocities in Burma to the attention of the people, and the Irish Government has been extremely supportive. The Department of Foreign Affairs sponsored a meeting of the Government in exile a month ago. It has only been able to meet for the second time since the elections in 1990. The Department has been very supportive in giving training to those people who are trying to set up an alternative Administration for Burma. It has given financial assistance towards bringing people here.

Is it important that the great support given to the democratically elected Government of Burma, which is opposed by the military dictatorship, SLORC, could be because they are not people of great importance whereas the lack of action over Tibet could be because a large and important country is the cause of human rights suffering there? I think it is. Burma had elections in 1990 and the National League for Democracy won 82% of the seats. However, we have taken the concerns of this country much more to heart than we have those of the people of Tibet, even though their suffering has gone on for a great deal longer.

Another interesting point was that Aung San Suu Kyi, that tremendously courageous woman who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was [342] given freedom of the city of Dublin when Mary Freehill was Mayor. I heard murmurings about the Dalai Lama being given the freedom of the city and I do not know why it did not go ahead. Is our lack of courage regarding such instances because China is such a powerful country and, I regret to say, extraordinarily important in world trade terms and that this affects us much more than it should? We saw the son of Aung San Suu Kyi, Kim Aris, coming here and being rightly feted in the city, and we were all extraordinarily pleased and proud to see him accepting the freedom of the city on his mother's behalf. How much more pleased and proud we would have been if the Dalai Lama had also received the freedom of the city when he was here. The Prime Minister in exile, Dr. Sein Win, came here last year and was well received in the Republic and Northern Ireland by many political leaders, and we were delighted by that.

It was good to see the great interest the Dalai Lama had in politics in Northern Ireland and it would perhaps have been good if we had had a reception for him here. The fact that those who fight for democracy in Burma have been elected is a strong point and makes a difference, but we need to re-examine the attitude of surrounding Asian countries to Burma. They have had little more interest in it than they have had in Tibet. If we wait for these countries to be helpful, especially when such a large neighbouring country is involved, we will be waiting forever. Now that the Government has a powerful position on the Security Council and is in a position to make better representations on behalf of Tibet, there must be less talk and more action.

I wish to mention briefly the plight of Buddhist monks and nuns in Tibet. We know from newspaper reports that nuns have been appallingly tortured and raped. I also refer to a child who has not been referred to in the debate so far, namely, the Panchen Lama. Senators may remember about ten years ago when the old Panchen Lama was dying how outrageously he was treated by the Chinese Government. He had been a prisoner for many years and was treated horribly, even in his dying state. The Tibetan people decided on a child of about five as their new Panchen Lama. This was naturally the right of the Tibetan people, but the Chinese Government, realising after a few years this child's popularity within Tibet, decided on another child of its own who would be the Panchen Lama. The serious issue now is that both children and their families have been little in evidence for eight years.

Will the Minister ask the Chinese Ambassador what has happened? I asked when I attended an interparliamentary union meeting in Beijing what was the situation of both Panchen Lamas and their families and all I received as a reply was that they were well and in good health. That is not satisfactory and I ask the Minister to appeal to the Chinese Ambassador regarding the position of both these children and their families.

[343] Mr. Norris: I thank all my colleagues who took part in this debate and I thank the Minister. It is important that he was present, especially in the early part of the debate. I wish we had been given evidence that we were embarking on what Mr. Robin Cook called “an ethical foreign policy”. He did not live up to it and what we had in the Minister's reply was an extraordinary degree of intellectual confusion for which I doubt he was entirely individually responsible. For example, the statement about the one China policy is a backwards step from the position taken by Deputy Spring when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs. We are moving backwards and I regret and deplore it. It is undemocratic. Positions are being taken by mandarins which do not reflect the sentiments of the Irish people nor, I am glad to say, those of people in the House. It is most regrettable that these positions should be taken.

I will not counter the musings of Senator Lanigan because they were effectively countered on the same side. The question of the alleged feudal basis of the regime under the Dalai Lama prior to 1950 has been so effectively countered that I need hardly refer to it. The Dalai Lama is central and is universally popular. I have been in Tibet, not as part of a Foreign Affairs delegation but was sent there by the Unrepresented Nations and People's Organisation in The Hague, and there is universal respect for the Dalai Lama.

I say that there is intellectual confusion because of the reference to the one China policy. We are told we must accept that Tibet is part of China, something which no one in their right moral sense could possibly do and over which no international legal authority will stand. Therefore, how can Ireland maintain this position? We heard bland phrases about China giving a report on its human rights, that it is signing two instruments and that its third periodic report was considered. The Minister welcomed the statement by the Chinese delegation that it was a consistent position of principle of Chinese Government to oppose and prohibit torture. How wonderful.

A report in the Irish Independent of 7 October stated that nuns were driven to suicide after Chinese torture. This is exactly contemporaneous with these statements which have been so easily and happily accepted by whoever wrote the Minister's script. This occurred in 1998 during the visit of the British Ambassador and two European colleagues. When he was outside the prison talking about human rights, the Chinese authorities were attacking and savaging the people inside, including five nuns who “spontaneously” committed suicide. Does anyone believe that?

I recommend this report to the House to read and, in particular, for the glimpse it has given of the inside of a prison cell block for women political prisoners called Rukhag 3. The crimes for which these nuns were imprisoned included pasting protest posters on monastery walls, scattering leaflets or shouting reactionary slogans.

[344] What would the House think if this happened in Ireland, which it might have 250 years ago? Would we be comforted by the notion we had been absorbed into a larger entity and that we would get human rights when that entity considered it right to give us them, but that major economic forces were dictating against that?

The European Union-China dialogue has produced no tangible result whatever, except to assist in the murder of five nuns. It is clear China looked on that dialogue as a sign of weakness and a means of endlessly deferring any pressure to ratify the United Nations convention. This was exacerbated when the United States detached the whole question of most favoured nation status from human rights considerations.

I know the Chinese have said there is religious freedom. I have a statement here from the Chinese, which says they respect religious freedom for all the citizens of China, including Tibet. It then goes on to say that backward beliefs must be cast aside by Tibetans as they develop a modern civilisation. It says that, as society progresses, some decayed, backward, old customs that bear a strong tinge of the feudal serf system have been abandoned, which reflects the Tibetans' pursuit of modern civilisation and a healthy life, as well as the continuous development of Tibetan culture in the new era. In other words, while they are prating about religious freedom, on one hand, they are, on the other, oppressing the people who wish to exercise their rights to religious freedom.

I want to put on the record the precise Chinese policy. I have an official document of the Chinese authorities with responsibility for Tibet, who met in Chengdu under Chenkuiyan, the Tibet autonomous region party secretary. His subsequent communication to Beijing this year stated, first, that they must gradually stamp out this Tibetan so-called religion and culture until they are reduced to mere museum pieces, without the current ability to influence generation after generation of people. Second, the Dalai Lama and their so-called exiled government in Dharamsala are the main impediment to peace and stability in Tibet and, therefore, they should uproot them.

Under the patriotic re-education campaign which was launched in 1997, religious repression has been waged with mounting ferocity. The Chinese Government recently issued four prohibitions – first, a prohibition against faith and religion; second, a prohibition against the installation of religious altars, prayer flags, Dalai's photographs and other religious symbols in homes; third, a prohibition against participation in religious or other activities of blind feudal faith and, fourth, a prohibition against sending children outside the jurisdiction to schools run by the Dalai.

Imagine if this were Ireland, in a human rights context. I remember a previous Government, which was so jittery that, on official advice from the Department, there was an attempt to prevent Mary Robinson meeting the Dalai Lama. She [345] managed to engineer an accidental meeting. Thank God, President McAleese was able to meet and directly converse with the Dalai Lama in Belfast in the past few days. I congratulate her on her courage and I wish the Government had similar courage.

My colleague mentioned the Panchen Lama. However, there is also Nawang Sangdrol, who was sentenced to 21 years for singing independence songs, and Nawang Choephel, an ethnic musicologist, imprisoned as a spy for studying Tibetan traditional music. When his mother met him for the first time after five years she had to ask him if he was her son. Imagine that in an Irish context.

It is very important for us to do whatever we can for the people of Tibet. We owe it to them. If we are serious about peace – and we blather and prate about peace all the time – it is incumbent upon us to stand behind and support the one world leader who has consistently maintained a position of non-violence. If we do not, and if the young Tibetans find they are no longer able to control their anguish and break out in physical violence against the Chinese, we will be as guilty as the Chinese for any blood that follows.

I made two suggestions, which are not terribly adventurous. I hope the Department, with this new opportunity, will take them up. The first suggestion was that we should offer the possibility of a framework and location outside the limelight for a meeting between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government in Ireland if we are serious about assisting in this situation.

The other suggestion related to the economic question. There are 1.3 billion people in China but the economy is in chaos. As I said, it has been compared to Brazil. It is not an enormous market, eagerly waiting to acquire European products. Some 90% of those people have an annual income of less than $200. How many fridges are they likely to buy out of that? I appeal to the Minister and the Department to seize the opportunity, not to go for the easy solution, to listen to the voices of people in this House and the Irish people and to follow in the tradition of the position we took on East Timor. That position did not come from a Minister, a political party or the mandarins in Iveagh House, but from a decision by the people of Ireland. Any Government or official that takes this position—

An Cathaoirleach: I ask Senator Norris to conclude.

Mr. Norris: —will get the gratitude of the Irish people.

Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Lydon: At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.